war powers

Your Congress at War … With Itself … Again

Detail: Morning rises over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 11 March 2014.  Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The setup: Remember how Republicans used to denounce President Obama as a “king” and lamented his unprecedented executive power?

Can we try laying on thick? Remember how Republicans and Democrats alike handed President Bush what essentially amounted to perpetual war powers?

Now, remember: President Obama is currently operating in the Iraqi-Syrian theatre, against Daa’ish, under authority granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force granted President Bush in 2001 to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, apparently, everyone else in Iraq.

We might also remember some back and forth in there about the fact that it is Congress who grants war powers to the president, yet it was also Congress who wanted President Obama to march down to Capitol Hill with a plan that satisfies their desire to send our troops to war.

So President Obama did just that. Well, at least, the marching down with a plan part.

And of course, Republicans are upset that he did so.

Steve Benen tries to explain an emerging, familiar theme―

In terms of the politics of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), the president’s language was not well received on Capitol Hill – many Democrats said the resolution, as written, is too broad and includes too few restrictions, while most Republicans said it’s too narrow and includes too many restrictions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), demonstrating his trademark wit, called the proposed language “utterly stupid.”

The dynamic has annoying familiarity to it:

1. Congress demanded to President Obama, “Send us a resolution!”

2. President Obama responded, “Fine, here’s proposed language.”

3. Congress then declared, “We don’t like this resolution!”

Perhaps now would be a good time to remind lawmakers that they could have – at some point over the last six months – worked on writing their own language to consider. Perhaps “legislators writing legislative language” would have been too obvious.

―except this time there is a twist:

… pay particular attention to the detail about Obama putting an expiration date on the resolution – something that didn’t happen in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

As near as anyone can tell, Republicans appear to be upset that the war powers request is mission-specific and has an expiration date requiring renewal after three years. Benen points to his msnbc colleague David Taintor:

Former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who is eyeing a White House bid in 2016, criticized Obama’s resolution as too limited.

“All options need to be on the table in combating this Radical Islamic threat,” Santorum said in a statement distributed by his Patriot Voices PAC. “We need to take the fight to our enemy without the constraints this Administration is proactively placing upon itself and this President’s successor. The next President needs to be able to have all the tools at their disposal to not just conduct military operations, but win this war.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also considering a White House bid, said Obama’s war proposal need only be one sentence. “I would say there is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence. And that is: ‘We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.’ And that’s, I think, what we need to do,” Rubio said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Those who preach that there is no difference between the parties should take a moment to explain this one: Democrats are concerned that the AUMF request is too vague and will license widespread warfare. Republicans are upset that the AUMF fails to demand either widespread or perpetual warfare.

No difference at all, there, eh?

Here we go. Iiiiiiiiiiit’s wartiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!

(Those who might remind as we did above that our troops are already engaged in this war might also wish to take a note; previously, the U.S. was merely fighting this war, and now we are preparing to officially commit to it. And given that our response to 9/11 and its connections to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen was to invade Iraq, one wonders if maybe Republicans might actually be hoping for another petition to perpetual warfare. After all, in matters of war and peace, or life and death, it’s important to keep the really important things in mind, like posturing for the 2016 election. No, seriously, just think about what’s happening; a president with a Nobel Peace Prize is asking to go to war and Republicans are pitching a fit because it’s not a big enough war.)

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Benen, Steve. “Congress balks at war resolution it didn’t want to write”. msnbc. 12 February 2015.

Taintor, David. “Obama asks for new war powers: ISIS is ‘going to lose'”. msnbc. 11 February 2015.

Just Another Day in Iowa?

Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R-12)

A persistent question in our electoral politics: Were you a business owner, would you really hire the candidate who says the job cannot and should not be done?

Really. Please. Just think about it for a moment.

In politics, we call this voting for Republicans. You know, the party that wants to drown government in the bathtub, because drowning someone you’ve beaten to such frailty that they cannot defend themselves is somehow a noble idyll?

And while Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R-12) is the sort of candidate for U.S. Senate that would ordinarily embarrass constituents, we must also remember that this is Iowa we’re talking about.

We already know about the example Speaker Boehner set, arguing that Congress can wait until next year to give any time to President Obama’s ongoing military action against Daa’ish. And Joni Ernst is taking that advice in earnest, making it a campaign argument. Steve Benen, who has spent some effort trying to follow the twists and turns of the Iowa Republican’s remarkably bizarre campaign, tried to unpack the latest truckload of premium-grade fertilizer:

At a Senate debate in Iowa over the weekend, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) argued, “I think Congress should go back into session and have a broader and longer conversation about the nature of our involvement” in the Middle East.

Joni Ernst’s (R) response was amazing, even by Joni Ernst standards:

“Yes, we knew this threat was there months and months and months ago and this decision could have been made earlier this year so there’s no sense in calling Congress back now when this decision could have been made several months ago.”

The quote comes by way of a Democratic group that recorded the debate.

(more…)

The Speaker of the House of Representatives

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8)

The story so far: There is a war on, in case you hadn’t heard. Except it’s not a war, because Congress has not declared one, and sees no need to consider the question before the upcoming midterm election. Say what you will, but it’s Congress.

We heard earlier this month from Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and others about how the Senate GOP intended to run out the clock before the midterm elections; a week ago, Speaker Boehner (R-OH) simply closed shop in the House of Representatives, getting his caucus out of town after eight working days in order to spend the subsequent fifty-four calendar days hiding from tough votes. And he did this on the same day he complained about how the unemployed have a sick idea that they would rather just sit around.

So, right. There’s a war on. Sort of. And Congress has no intention of doing anything more than rubber-stamping an existing covert program. Republicans, especially, will get back to complaining but refusing to face votes after the midterm election.

Oh.

Right. There’s this, from Carl Hulse of The New York Times:

With American airstrikes in Syria continuing, Speaker John A. Boehner is increasingly convinced that Congress must hold a full debate on granting President Obama the authority to use military force against terrorists.

“I have made it clear that I think the House and the Congress itself should speak,” the speaker said in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with First Draft.

But Mr. Boehner believes a post-election, lame-duck session is the wrong time for such a weighty decision.

“Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this,” he said.

Mr. Boehner, who is open to a more expansive military campaign to destroy the Islamic State, thinks lawmakers should take up the issue after the new Congress convenes in January.

At that time, he said, President Obama should come forward with a proposal for consideration.

The Seal of Speaker Boehner's House of RepresentativesSo there’s a war on. Kind of. But that question can wait until next year.

The Speaker offers a rather damning indictment of Congress. No wonder the American people have no faith in their legislative branch; the Speaker of the House has no faith in it, either.

And that is about the kindest interpretation of Boehner’s disgraceful Speakership we might distill from this latest episode.

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Hulse, Carl. “Boehner Says New Congress Should Debate Military Action”. First Draft. 25 September 2014.